It’s officially two days until the 2018 NBA free agency period begins.
Like most summers in recent years the fate of teams looking to come close to overthrowing the Golden State Warriors rest on the choice of one man, LeBron James. Apart from that there are other key players that will help shape of how the NBA will look at the start of the 2018-19 season. Here are the top three stories to play attention when the clock strikes midnight EST on July 1.
1.) Where Will James Land?
James, the best player of this decade will once again test the free agency waters. Just like in the summers of 2010 and 2014 James is coming off losses to teams that seemed to have his number. In 2010 it was the Boston Celtics, in 2014 it was the San Antonio Spurs, and now that team is the Warriors. The betting favorite at the moment for James’ landing spot is the Los Angeles Lakers with other teams like the Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Spurs also in the running.
There is still also the possibility that James with stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers or even go back to his previous team the Miami Heat. The problem with both situations vary.
James and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert don’t have a good working relationship on various fronts. The cap situation also hurts Cleveland as the team is in the luxury tax even with James’s contract removed from it meaning it won’t be easy to rebuild a team that is enticing enough to stay.
The situation with the Heat is very similar. Although the relationship between James and Miami owner Micky Arison is nowhere near as fractured as is in Cleveland the cap situation is in the same spot. Should James want to come back to Miami it would have to be via sign-&-trade and the Heat may not have the assets that can both satisfy the Cavs while having the team be considered a title contender.
2.) Will Kawhai Leonard Be Traded?
When the news dropped that Leonard’s camp informed the Spurs that he wanted to be traded to the Lakers it sent shockwaves throughout the NBA. Since that time San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford have made efforts to repair the relationship with the team’s best player.
While San Antonio would prefer to keep Leonard they are also listening to trade proposals. The team is relying on the fact that it can offer him a supermax deal called at over $200 million next summer as means to keep him.
Should a trade be the only option the preference for the Spurs would be to ship Leonard to the East rather than the Lakers. That would mean getting teams le the Celtics and Sixers to take a leap of faith similar to what the Oklahoma City Thunder did last summer when acquiring Paul George. Leonard’s health also plays a factor as the Celtics have been hesitant to seriously engage the Spurs in trade talks.
The Lakers for their part have been aggressive in the last 24 hours in trade talks as the team believes getting Leonard all but guarantees that James comes as well. A snag might present itself should Los Angeles include Lonzo Ball in trade packages with the Spurs. Ball is a very good young player but he comes with baggage in the form of his father LaVar. The antics of LaVar put a target on his son’s back and caused headaches for the Lakers. San Antonio is not a place where LaVar can get away with things like he has been with Los Angeles.
3.) Will The Rockets Betray Chris Paul?
Last summer Chris Paul was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Rockets with an unspoken agreement that the team would offer him a max contract this year.
That agreement was while the Rockets were owned by Leslie Alexander. Last October the team was bought by restaurant mogul Tilman Fertitta.
Even with Daryl Morey still at the helm as GM in Houston, Paul’s injury history may cause Fertitta to rethink the team’s commitment. However the fact that Houston came close to beating the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and with Paul’s close friendship to James being a factor in the possibility landing him can also keep the deal intact.